Catherine, or The Bower
Catherine, or the Bower (Kitty, or the Bower) is an unfinished novel from Jane Austen's juvenilia. With its realistic setting and characters, it represents something of a bridge between her early burlesques, and the soberer novels that made her name.
Appearing in Volume the Third of Austen's early writing (begun in 1792), Catherine is itself generally dated to 1792-3. However a (substituted) reference to the Regency has been seen as linking it to the first regency crisis of 1788-9,  rather than being a later interpolation; while alternatively, because of thematic parallels in Austen's letters of 1795-6 The Bower has also been post-dated to the mid-nineties instead.
To Mrs. Peterson's dismay, the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Stanley plan to visit, and Catharine excitedly anticipates their arrival. A wealthy family with political and social influence, the Stanley's daughter, Camilla, catches Catherine's attention. While their daughter's "ideas where towards the Eleagance of the appearance", she seemed to be "devoid of taste or judgment" (169). Catherine befriends Camilla Stanley who shares her interests but "Professed a love of books without reading, was lively without wit, and generally good humoured without merit" (169). Camilla then discusses traveling preparations with Catherine as well as friends and foes that might be encountered on her travels. Catherine then begins to voice her opinions on The House of Commons.
Camilla and Catherine are engaged in conversation covering a myriad of topics, eventually landing on talk of politics. Difference in interest leads Catherine to realize that they have very little in common. While Catherine wants to discuss things like books and politics, Camilla tends to lead the conversation back to subjects Catherine views as more frivolous such as fashion and social life. Catherine turns the discussion towards talk of the Halifaxes (the Wynne's benefactors), due to her interest in the condition of her old friends the Wynne family. Through the course of the conversation it is revealed that Camilla sees the Wynnes circumstances as fortunate while Catherine views it alternately as tragic, and they've been ill treated by their benefactors.
Kitty and Camilla discuss the Wynn sisters and disagree over whether their situations are favorable or not. Kitty acknowledges that her and Camilla will not come to an agreement, and she escapes to her bower. While she is in her bower, Camilla comes to inform her that they've all been invited to the Dudley's ball; they celebrate. The next day, Kitty wakes up with a violent toothache that prevents her from attending the ball. Camilla, her parents, and Kitty's aunt ultimately decide to attend the ball without her.
Ms. Stanley and Ms. Percival discuss the friendship between both Camilla and Catharine and come to opposing opinions about the meaning of their friendship. Ms. Percival see their relationship as detrimental and informs Ms. Stanley that she, herself, did not have such a correspondence. Ms. Percival quips that having such a companion would have changed her for the better and recounts her own friend which she still keeps acquaintance with. Mr. Stanley then enters, beginning a conversation on Politics and Society. Catharine dispatches with the rest of a family to a Ball where they are overtaken by the presence of an unknown gentleman.
Edward is a flirt. He flirts with Miss Percival, but then gives Kitty a little bit of a hard time. Kitty explains to him that she is against the ideas of her parents when it comes to women being property. Edward seems to agree and encourages her to stick with this attitude. But alas he is also a wolf in sheep's clothing. Kitty is therefore very independent while Miss Percival is very submissive.
Catharine and Edward arrive at the Dudley's ball, their sudden entrance breaking etiquette. Edward's parents are happy to reunite with him, while Catharine's aunt is upset to see her arriving with a young man after supposedly being in too much pain to attend. Catharine and Camilla talk about Edward and romance with her aunt disapproving, before he himself asks her for the honor of the next dance, breaking propriety once again and upsetting the young women attending and Catharine's aunt again. Camilla herself feels her family has been slighted and insults Catharine for her father's low status while speaking with her own mother.
Despite previously being excited for the ball, Camilla reveals that she thought it was “extremely abominable.” In the meantime, Catherine tries to convince Edward to stay in England, instead of returning to France. As they spend more time together, Catherine realizes how quickly her feelings are developing for Edward. However, her aunt doesn’t approve of him and chastises Catherine for her scandalous behavior.
Edward disrespects Mrs. Percival leaving her to critique his modesty and decorum. Edward is then walking alone with Kitty, he kisses her hand and leaves abruptly. Mrs. Percival goes to chastise Kitty for her and Edward's behavior, and accuses her of looseness and the subsequent downfall of the country. Kitty comments that it is getting late and chilly. Mrs. Percival takes the opportunity to suggest that she will come down with a severe cold and it is Kitty's (and by extension the arbors) fault.
Catherine and Camilla discuss Edward leaving abroad. Camilla says that he was sorry to leave and regrets making the promise to Mr. Stanley. Kitty asks why, and Camilla states that he is obviously in love with her (though she was skeptical at first from his sudden departure), bringing Kitty "a state of satisfaction."
Featuring an orphan heroine raised by a censorious aunt, The Bower also includes elements of farce, parody and burlesque (as did earlier juvenalia). Sentimentalism featured strongly, with Catherine's Bower, constructed with the help of her two absent friends, featuring as the only place able “to restore her to herself”: it would eventually be destroyed by her aunt in an apparent parody of The Faerie Queene.
Two new characters, a brother-sister pairing, do much to set in motion the (unfinished) plot. Isabella Stanley (a forerunner of Northanger Abbey's Isabella Thorpe) bonds with Catherine over sentimental novels; while their friendship also opens a conduct book debate over female correspondence: Isabella's mother maintains that “Nothing forms the taste more than sensible & Elegant letters”, while Catherine's aunt objects to “a correspondence between Girls as...the frequent origin of imprudence & Error”.
- M. Girouard, Enthusiasms (2011) Chap I
- E. Copeland ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (1997) p. 85
- E. Copeland ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen (1997) p. 85
- M. Girouard, Enthusiasms (2011) Ch. I
- C. Tuite, Romantic Austen (Cambridge 2002) p. 32
- Quoted in B. Seeker, Jane Austen and Animals (2016) p. ix
- C. Tuite, Romantic Austen (Cambridge 2002) p. 40-1
- M. A Doody ed., Catherine and Other Writings (Oxford 1993) p. 202
- B. Seeker, Jane Austen and Animals (2016) p. 70